1. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    Character Compiling

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by cogitatio182, Sep 29, 2012.

    Over the past year and a half, as I've started organizing my ideas slowly and over time, I've realized how hard it is to keep my character's together in my head. They tend to change as I change, which can be good or bad. As I approached older story ideas, my characters no longer fit and I have to revamp the plot, or reorganize to compensate for changes in my perception of my own characters. So, recently, I've started to organize them by stories and with certain things set in stone like:
    • Eyes
    • Hair
    • Main Job
    • Background
    I am curious to hear what some more advanced writers do to keep their characters straight in their stories. Are there excellent, tried and true ways to keep each character understandable over a long period of time for multiple stories? Or is it more, whatever works for you as the author?
     
  2. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    If your characters change there's no need to force them back into their old selves - plenty of writers and folks on this forum will tell you (and rightly so) that it's better to let your characters be themselves rather than force them into how you want to be. Although occasionally you might need to disregard this general piece of advice, I've found that it usually works well.

    I do tend to keep lists of my characters with short descriptions. Some writers do that; others don't, arguing it stifles creativity. Regardless, I just need to make sure I keep the general idea about my characters, lest I forget. It's fun, too, because I like making lists of things, and it allows me to think about them outside the context of the plot and in the context of the world around them. Or something.
     
  3. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Sometimes I draw pictures of my characters to visualize them better. But more often I write their names on a list and keep their images inside my head.

    My characters are always themselves, whether they are stupid or serious. It is how they react to a situation, which changes them.
     
  4. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    If they have to change and evolve with the stroy than so be it.

    In what I'm writing I had a character start as a middle aged immigrant from Nigeria. That caracter has since evolved into an 80 year old white lady.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your manuscript is your reference.

    You will know your manuscript so well by the time you are finished with it you could practically recite it verbatim.
     
  6. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    Thanks for the feedback, as I begin to write they will definitely become more independent and dynamic. I suppose what I have always wanted to do is expand my abilities as a writer, so that I'm giving my character's a chance to be themselves by giving them definition and clear cut attributes that can be referenced. If I just let them change as I change, then they're more like me, and I'm trying to reach and identify with people that don't always think like me. Making characters more stable in a record has let me focus on what kind of character they are, instead of them being several different versions of myself. Does that make sense?
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, but. While this strategy may keep the characters "fixed" in the sense that they won't morph into you, it also keeps them "fixed" in the sense that they won't develop and become more complicated, deeper, more convincing people. It may be that suppressing the morphing is more important, now, than ensuring maximum depth and flexibility in the character. But if you do decide that, I'd suggest that you are choosing the lesser of two evils, and that after you've mastered writing a few characters that are definitely not you, you try to free yourself from the need for those firm pre-definitions.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm assuming that you are relatively young, hence the fact that your characters change as you change. This isn't really a problem. It's a reflection of your growth both as a person and a writer. It's a natural occurrance that, as you write a story and develop characters, they "grow" in front of you because new possibilities for them occur to you as you develop your story. That's a good thing. The things you're "setting in stone" aren't things that are likely to change in this kind of character progression as you write, but could change as your understanding of possibilities expands. For example, you might very well discover some new profession or skill and decide it would be a good fit for one of your characters. If that's the case, I wouldn't necessarily lock it out.

    Good luck.
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't generally know who most of my characters are until I start writing. Some of the things you mention, such as eye and hair color, don't generally need to be 'etched in stone' unless they are for some reason very important to the plot. Even their main job is not really so important, unless it figures into some aspect of the story (i.e. a character is a detective in a detective story or something.) So if you are writing, these things can be fluid -- and if the aspect you are trying to keep is so important, you won't be able to forget it, so you don't need to worry about writing it down before you start your story and trying to stick to it.

    Background is more important to keep consistent, since that has a major influence on the character's world view, decision making process and interactions with others.

    I find it's more important to keep general traits consistent, more than the specific details (although obviously if you do make a decision you have to keep that consistent -- i.e. if you say a person is a doctor at the beginning, they can't be a nurse later on. But you could decide later on in the writing process that maybe it makes more sense for your character to be a nurse, for any number of possible reasons.) A major caveat is that you may want some character trait to change if you're dealing with a main character and his or her journey would make the character change.

    I like doing the exercises of imagining what your character looks like, what kind of car he drives, etc., because they force you to think about him. But I do this after he's given me some ideas through writing scenes with him. If I decide later on that it makes more sense for my female protagonist to have red hair, because my male protagonist has always had a special affinity for it, I can change that without changing her essential character. But it's another thing entirely to make her shy and hesitant, meek and conservative in one scene and boisterous, outgoing, ostentatious and loud in another, unless I can explain why she would behave differently in the two situations.

    I discover my characters through writing the story -- sometimes they're characters I didn't know I was going to have in the story. They just appear, and sometimes they become very important and central to the story. Others who I thought were going to be more involved turn out not to add much and end up as peripheral, secondary characters.
     
  10. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    I'm hearing a lot of good thoughts I hadn't considered. Maybe as I write more and plan less, this will iron itself out through personal experience of what you're talking about. I know that I'm finding much of your advice is true as I'm writing a short scene, just to practice/develop my dialog and description skills, the character doesn't need an excess of set in stone details. Just a general concept of personality.

    Thanks for all the feedback, especially chicagoliz, your response made a lot of sense. I'll try out some of what you all are saying and let you know how it goes!
     
  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I'm a firm believer in letting them be them. I tried, when I first wrote PR and DaD to try to "cleanse" my MC and take away the fact she doesn't think "golly gee willickers, Batman" or "Oh, darn I burned the cookies," Due to her background as being a former gladiator slave, when she thinks/talks sailors could run from the room blushing.

    Your characters are what make the story, but their almost biologically linked to your story since it's their past (your future as a writer) and it's told to you from their experiences and viewpoints, which can be anything from morals, how violent they are, the language to use, to a host of other things. However, if they don't "fit" in the story, then likely that person has a different story to tell then the one you're wanting to write.

    I hope this helps some.
     
  12. InkDreamer
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    InkDreamer Member

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    Let your characters evolve. Go with the drift. Sometimes you end up with something completely different from what you had in mind, but it is better to leave it so rather than force it away from its natural path. Your characters, story, and data (research) should back each other up and evolve together. They have no use as separate entities.
     
  13. vg90
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    vg90 New Member

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    Heya, just saw this and it reminded me of the same problem I faced a couple of years ago. I got the idea for a story and characters when I was relatively young which then kept changing as I experienced more things/people. The key is to remember that although every character is in some way a part of you, they are not you. So although you change, they don't have to change. This will only happen if you can see them outside of yourself. Initially, my protagonist was basically a modified version of myself although I didn't realise it and the problem with that was, when I didn't have answers to things in my own life, it was very hard to give conclusions to my protagonist. You need to find a way to divorce the two of you where you can actually say this is me and that is him/her. Once you do that, your characters can change according to the story rather than just according to your experiences. Also, when you have a character who is not anything like you, it is useful to walk around in his/her head for a while, maybe get someone to talk to you and ask you questions as if you were that character - when I did that, it helped fill a lot of holes and become more comfortable with a different way of thinking.
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    At the same time, I've heard (quite often) that "all fiction is autobiography." There are many novels out there that are very clearly autobiographical, sometimes even to the point of the MC having the *same name* as the author. That's not necessarily such a bad thing.
     
  15. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    I do too, and I wouldn't have been able to get by without them, and neither would I have wanted to. They are crucial to authors with many characters, especially where there are many notes to make on each. Personally I think (I certainly know it's the case for me) most authors should keep a list of characters in any given story. The only exception is for me when there are so few characters (probably not more than you can count on you hands) that you literally remember everything you need to know about each without limiting their change etc. I think it's utter rubbish that keeping a list inhibits character development, and in my case it certainly enables and enhances it.

    Personally I have a Word document in which I now have exactly 223 characters (this is for my current/main project; I have only developed a couple of proper characters outside of that). Not all of them will probably make it in in the end. Some need middle names, but every character who's supposed to have a first name and a surname has that by now. I keep a separate list on deities (the mythology of my story features five gods, although only one makes appearances in the text), and also on a few other things like fantasy creature species, fictional locations and actually also a separate document which specifies the sexuality of many of my most important characters.

    My list is made up of six main categories which are, from top to bottom: "non-human non-royals", "regal non-humans", "antagonists", "people who have lived on both planets", "people from Wedge" and "people from Earth". They obviously only make sense in my context. I'm planning on a fantasy/ science fiction novel series.

    Not every character gets the same treatment in my list, for more or less obvious reasons, but these are the main features on my notes for each character: category (one of the six I mentioned), sex (AKA gender), full name, nicknames, where I got their name(s) from, pronunciation of their name (I've developed my own simple respelling key for English) and occasional details on looks, behaviour, background, age, job and colleagues, friends and family.

    The whole thing is riddled with my own personally developed abbreviations, acronyms, initialisms, mannerisms, punctuation and structure. I keep my own dictionary of sorts of those in a different document. Some highlights of those are "E" for Earth, "W" for Wedge, "M" for male, "F" for female, "fr" for "from", "bo" for "based on", "na" for name and "nn" for nickname. The list is largely sorted alphabetically or otherwise practically, with male characters by convenience always coming first in each of the six sections.

    This was just a demonstration of how it can be done (I do not necessarily recommend having that many characters or that many shorthands, however) and an outlet for my thoughts on character storage, as it were (NOTE: one of the worst things you could come across as a writer is to forget a perfectly good character).

    BTW, on a more humourous note, : If someone somehow manages to steal my characters list I'll have more than enough time to track them down before they figure out the secrets of my ba chs who are das of an NE MC called D(TR)Y who lives at Win's place and is bo SL,AY&BM. And they'll certainly have to go bw&can't even consult a cm for help on ea chs fr DR who were created by EEEG in +449, and they certainly don't know what's KAed ha-ic fo.
     
  16. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    I need to start up something similar. It seems like I'm adding somebody into the story every five pages. They're not main characters, or even secondary characters, but the main character knows their names because they all live in a small town.
    And there a lot... I keep forgetting their names, so I have to keep going back to check.
     
  17. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    Bjornar's post is a perfect example of "well, if it works for you, do it." I can't imagine using some algebraic formula for my characters like that. :)

    To echo what some others have said, I believe character should grow and evolve through a story and especially throughout a series. Otherwise, what's the point? Static is boring.

    Keeping track of eye color is simple. Just jot a basic character sheet down somewhere in a file or note card and fact check as you edit or each time you sit down to write.
     
  18. sharonwagoner
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    sharonwagoner Member

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    I think, as others have observed, that your most real characters will be drawn from some aspect of yourself.

    However, you may get inspiration from observing other people. Become a people watcher.

    Make notes on character ideas. Remember people are sometimes inconsistent that is part of what makes them interesting.
     
  19. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Character's grow like people, which is why there's differences between novels in series', for example, when the same character is involved. Their experiences, and other events in his/her life, will change them. If I showed you my MC from the beginning of Phoenix Rising, and showed you her in the middle, you'd say "Wow! She's really changed!" It get's more pronounced as you go further down their timeline.

    The way, I think most writers-including people like David Weber with his long-running Honor Harrington series-allow their character to grow and change on their own. To try to keep a character 'pigeon holed' isn't fair to them, because in many ways they are real. Besides these aren't "Star Trek" novels where Kirk, Spock and McCoy are basically set in stone and never really change between books.

    Kill your babies, as Stephen King would say. Let 'em grow and go where they want. They'll thank you for it.
     
  20. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    "Kill your babies" is an expression I hadn't heard before. But it definitely makes sense. Your characters have to "live" their own lives, and grow on their own makes sense, a bit of "letting go" as the author. I still will create some stable elements for my characters, but I will let this change as well if needed.
     
  21. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    King uses it in the term of revising, but it carries for characters. Let them grow how they will, "even if it breaks your egocentric little heart, kill your darlings."

    It can be applied to characters in such a way that they need to be allowed to live their lives, and go where they will. I've learned something about my MC's past, which'll be revealed in a later book, that she'd told me before-and I ignored-until the girl punched me upside the head the other night when going to sleep with the message:

    "Hey dumb ***, this IS who I am, and quit trying to ignore it!!!!"

    So, kill your babies, and let 'em grow.
     

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